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Councillor wants to know why there has been an increase in radioactive particles found on Dounreay foreshore

By Gordon Calder

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A Caithness councillor wants to know why there has been an increase in the number of radioactive particles found on the foreshore at Dounreay this year.

Struan Mackie, a Thurso and Northwest Caithness Highland councillor and chairman of the Dounreay Stakeholder Group (DSG), made the call after 15 irradiated particles were discovered on the foreshore area between February and March.

It is understood to be the highest number since 17 were found in 1996.

Mr Mackie said: "We wish to ascertain why there has been an increase in particle detections and whether this was preventable.

"Regular public updates are provided to the Dounreay Stakeholder Group through our Site Restoration sub-group, and it is of the utmost importance that these matters are dealt with in a robust but transparent manner."

Struan Mackie wants to find out why there has been an increase in radioactive particles on Dounreay foreshore this year
Struan Mackie wants to find out why there has been an increase in radioactive particles on Dounreay foreshore this year

Dounreay confirmed there has been an increase in the number of particles found on the foreshore. A spokeswoman said: "We closely monitor the environment around the site and have seen an increase in particles found on the Dounreay foreshore this year.

"The foreshore is not used by the general public. We are looking at wind and wave data to see if we can pinpoint a trend, and will report our findings when they are complete. Safety is our number one priority and we continue to monitor the foreshore on a regular basis.

"The particles in the marine environment around the site were deposited during Dounreay’s research operations in the 1960s and 1970s, and cleaning up that legacy is an important part of our mission to shut down the site safely and securely, ready for its next use."

According to a report on the gov.uk website, 15 particles, containing caesium 137 and cobalt 60, were found between February and March this year. The depth at which they were located by monitoring varied from four to 36 centimetres. Five particles were found in 2021.

The document said some particles, when separated in the laboratory from the associated sediments, were found to comprise more than one fragment. "The number of fragments are identified," it said.

According to reports in national newspapers, the particles were said to have "a realistic potential to cause harm to members of the public". Seventy-three per cent of the particles found were described as "significant".

Mr Mackie said: "It is clear that articles published in the national press have created concern locally. I wish to reassure the community that the Dounreay Stakeholder Group continues to engage with the Dounreay site and regulators through our formal channels."

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) said: "We are content that the monitoring and retrieval programme in place continues to provide appropriate protection for the public.

"SEPA regulates the Dounreay site via a permit issued to Dounreay Site Restoration Ltd (DSRL) under the Environmental Authorisations (Scotland) Regulations 2018. The permit sets out requirements on DSRL to undertake a beach monitoring programme and to use best practicable means to recover any particles detected, along with any adjacent sand that has been contaminated. DSRL is also required to provide a detailed report of its findings annually to SEPA.

"SEPA takes advice from the Particle Retrieval Advisory Group (Dounreay) on matters related to the particles at Dounreay to support its regulatory oversight and to ensure the public and environment are adequately protected."

The Dounreay nuclear plant was shut in 1994 and is presently being decommissioned.

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